A ventilator ‘bank’ where hospitals can rent critical care machines for Covid-19 patients has given Nepal's cash-strapped healthcare system a much-needed lifeline. The Himalayan nation, like its South Asian neighbours, experienced a spike in infections in April and May with hospitals overwhelmed and medical supplies running low. As the infectious disease started to spread across the impoverished nation a year ago, Nepal only had 840 ventilators for a population of nearly 30 million, according to government data. Most of the ventilators -- needed to help severely ill Covid-19 patients breathe -- were in the capital Kathmandu, leaving regional and rural hospitals vulnerable. While daily infections have since declined from a peak of more than 9,000 cases in mid-May, authorities say hospitals remain under pressure. But Nepal Ventilator Services, a non-profit that has bought 85 of the machines through donations since the start of the pandemic last year, has helped to meet the surge in demand. ‘Nepal is chronically, insufficiently equipped with machines like ventilators,’ the group's co-founder, 42-year-old doctor Bishal Dhakal, told AFP. ‘It does not have even required numbers, which is about 2,000 to 3,000 machines for a 30-million population of Nepal.’ The heart surgeon turned general practitioner reached out to donors for funding in April last year and money poured in, allowing the organisation to buy 20 ventilators to rent out to hospitals at cost. Bhim Hospital in the country's south, which had one ventilator, loaned two from Dhakal's group in August for three months. ‘Our patients needed ventilators but we did not have enough budget to immediately buy any,’ the government hospital's medical superintendent, Shakuntala Gupta, told AFP. ‘The bureaucratic process for an approval is also long.’ - 'Rescued us' – Since then, the ventilators have been used for nearly 1,500 patients across the country. Hospitals are charged 3,000 rupees ($25) per day to cover maintenance and transportation costs. Karuna Hospital in Kathmandu, which has been renting eight ventilators since April this year, said the ‘bank’ was life-saving. ‘At the peak, almost every patient who was admitted in the ICU required ventilator support,’ the private hospital's chief executive, Ram Kumar Shrestha, told AFP. ‘If the ventilator 'bank' did not exist, the death rate would perhaps be beyond our imagination, not just here but in many places of Nepal.’ Laxmi Rokaya, 29, was struggling to breathe a week after she was infected in May. Her brother, Kunsang Magar, was unable to find a spare ventilator in Kathmandu until they reached Karuna. ‘They (Nepal Ventilator Services) rescued us. I don't know if we would have found a ventilator without them,’ Magar told AFP, adding that Rokaya was placed on a ventilator for two days and released from hospital just over a week later. Dhakal said all the organisation's 85 ventilators were loaned out during the peak. The country has reported nearly 630,000 infections and over 8,900 deaths so far. Even as the second wave wanes, officials are concerned the third is around the corner. Dhakal is working on increasing his ventilator stock and is training more people to operate the specialised equipment. ‘Hospitals can come to us for critical equipment that they might not need long-term,’ he added. ‘We (want)... to make sure the public has access to healthcare when in need.’
Flash floods triggered by heavy rains washed away a remote mountain camp in Bhutan on Wednesday killing 10 people and injuring five, while floods in neighbouring Nepal left seven people missing, authorities said. The Bhutan villagers, who had been collecting cordeyceps, a fungus used in medicine, were sleeping when the floodwaters hit just after midnight. Their camp near Laya, about 60 km (37 miles) north of the capital Thimphu, was washed away, local media reported. ‘Our hearts are with the people of Laya today, as we hear about the tragedy that struck a group of cordeycep collectors in the highland,’ Bhutan Prime Minister Lotay Tshering said in a statement. Two helicopters were mobilised to evacuate the injured and rescuers from the armed forces were heading to the site which can only be reached after 11 hours of walking from the nearest road. Villagers in Bhutan and neighbouring Nepal go to high meadows every year to collect cordeycep which is believed to have potential health benefits. The villagers were camping by the side of a small stream between two small hills, The Bhutanese newspaper said. ‘It is believed they were washed away by the flood coming down the stream’, it said. In Nepal, Home Ministry official Dil Kumar Tamang said seven people were missing after overnight rains in Sindhupalchowk district, which borders the Tibet region of China, triggered flash floods in the Melamchi river inundating dozens of homes. ‘We are collecting details of losses,’ Tamang told Reuters. Witnesses said several people in Melamchi had moved to higher grounds with their belongings while army helicopters were rescuing those trapped in marooned houses. Authorities urged people living along the Narayani river, which flows into India as Gandak, to remain alert as the river was flowing above the danger mark. Nepal and Bhutan have been lashed by heavy rains in the last three days as the annual monsoon season beings.
A Nepali government official said on Monday that many foreign climbers were continuing their attempts to summit Mount Everest despite reports of a Covid-19 outbreak at the base camp of the world's tallest peak. In April, a Norwegian climber was evacuated from the base camp of the 8,848.86 metres (29,031.69 feet) mountain and flown to Kathmandu where he tested positive for Covid-19. He has since returned home. Lukas Furtenbach of the Austrian Furtenbach Adventures company, evacuated his team from the mountain this month saying there was a sharp rise in Covid-19 cases at the base camp. ‘So far we have about one hundred confirmed cases in Everest base camp, confirmed by doctors, by hospitals, by insurance companies, by expedition leaders, by helicopter pilots who are flying out the patients and of course by the climbers themselves,’ Furtenbach told Reuters TV in Kathmandu on Monday. But Mira Acharya, a director at the Department of Tourism that oversees climbing activities in Nepal's mountains, said the government had not received any notice of a Covid-19 outbreak at the Everest base camp and that expeditions were continuing through the climbing season that ends next week. When asked about the one hundred cases mentioned by Furtenbach, she said: ‘We have not received any report about that.’ ‘Even some climbers whose teams had stopped climbing are continuing their expeditions,’ she told Reuters without giving any names. ‘There is no panic among the climbers there,’ said Acharya, who visited base camp this month. ‘If there were a few cases they were managed in time and well.’ On Sunday, about 180 foreign climbers and their Sherpa guides reached the peak and more are expected to go up this week, she said. Nepal, which receives millions of dollars in income from climbers every year, issued 408 climbing permits for Everest for the April-May climbing season this year, after closing the peak last year due to the pandemic. On Sunday, Nepal reported 513,241 infections and 6,346 deaths since the outbreak began, according to government data.
An international expedition yesterday abandoned its attempt to scale Mount Everest, citing risks posed by an increasing number of Covid-19 cases at the base camp, the organisers said. Some climbers were evacuated from Everest base camp in April after they fell ill with Covid-19 symptoms as Nepal battles a brutal second wave of infections. Lukas Furtenbach, of Austrian expedition organising company Furtenbach Adventures, said his team of climbers from America, Norway, Israel, Germany, Austria, Italy, Luxembourg and Romania were abandoning the climb for safety reasons as the number of Covid-19 infections at the base camp was increasing. “To climb...with these massively increasing coronavirus numbers and risk the lives of our 20 climbers, four mountain guides and 27 Sherpas carelessly, would be irresponsible,” Furtenbach said in a statement. Infections at Everest base camp have surged as “elementary precautionary measures were simply not observed” by some teams, he said, without naming any expeditions. Tendi Sherpa of the Iceland Trekking and Expedition company, which provided local support to the team, confirmed climbers were returning for fear of the disease. Department of tourism director Mira Acharya said she had no information of any expedition evacuating due to Covid-19 fears. “Doctors at the base camp said the situation was not as serious as it was reported,” she said.”I did not see any terrible situation there,” said Acharya, who returned this week after overseeing preparations at the base camp. Nepal has reported 447,704 coronavirus cases and 4,856 deaths, according to government data.
Five people suffocated in a Nepal hospital after oxygen ran out this week, just the latest victims of a vicious Covid surge that risks devastating the impoverished country and its ill-equipped healthcare system. Daily new cases have risen 60-fold since April 1 and nearly a thousand people have died in the past 10 days, according to official figures which, as in neighbouring India, are seen as under-reporting the scale of the virus. The mountainous country of almost 30mn is now seeing severe cases flood hospitals as oxygen cylinders empty faster than they can be refilled and almost half of those tested return positive. In the capital Kathmandu, several hospitals have said they can no longer admit new patients, turning away desperate relatives looking for beds for infected loved ones. And Nepal’s prime minister now faces accusations that he missed a window of opportunity to stem the virus’ spread — allowing public gatherings and international travel even as cases soared to devastating levels across the border in India. Samir Kumar Adhikari, chief of the Health Ministry’s Heath Emergency Operation Centre, said that the country is now in a “crisis situation”. “If even 20% of the thousands in home isolation require hospital beds and care, it might reach a point where we will not be able to handle it,” he said. The five Covid patients who died this week were being treated in the intensive care unit of a hospital in Rupandehi in southern Nepal. “Our vehicles were queueing with cylinders to refill at three different refilling stations, but none were able to do so on time,” said Bishnu Gautam, a doctor at the Lumbini Provincial Hospital. Gaurav Sharda, president of Nepal Oxygen Industry Association, said that demand is outstripping production capacity. “All oxygen plants in Kathmandu are operating 24 hours and supplying oxygen in their full capacity. We can refill only 8,000 cylinders a day but demand is much higher.” Nepal has one of the world’s worst-funded health systems, with the number of doctors per capita lower even than India. The reasons for the surge in cases is similar to its huge neighbour — Nepal began recording a rise in cases in early April, a month after India, but the government continued to allow, even organise, large religious festivals and political gatherings. Many Nepalis attended India’s Kumbh Mela festival alongside millions of local Hindu devotees — including the former king and queen who were later hospitalised after testing positive. Indian travellers also flocked to Nepal to fly on elsewhere as the world restricted flights from India, until a ban was enforced. Former health minister Gagan Thapa, now an opposition lawmaker, said that Nepal had wasted two crucial months in which it could have stemmed the outbreak. “No matter the mistakes we made earlier, if we had used that window of opportunity, the damages would be much less than what we are seeing right now,” Thapa said. Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli has faced fierce criticism over his handling of the pandemic. As cases rose, he suggested gargling with guava leaves would cure the virus — topping his comments last year that spices would strengthen Nepalis’ immune systems. Oli on Monday lost a confidence vote in parliament — due more to political infighting rather than the pandemic — and talks are now on to form a new government.
A Swiss and an American climber have died on Mount Everest, hiking company officials said on Thursday, the first fatalities on the world’s highest peak this season. Abdul Waraich, 41, of Switzerland and American Puwei Liu, 55, died of exhaustion while descending the slopes of the 8,848.86 metre (29,031.69-foot) mountain on Wednesday, said Thaneshwar Guragai, a manager of the Seven Summit Treks company that provided support to the climbers. ‘Additional sherpas were sent with supplies and oxygen but unfortunately they could not save them,’ he told Reuters. Waraich, who was on his way down after reaching the summit, died near the south summit, according to Chhang Dawa Sherpa, another official of the company. Liu could not reach the summit of Everest and died on descent near a 7,900 metre (25,918 feet) camp at the South Col after suffering snow blindness and exhaustion, Sherpa said in his Instagram post. More details were not immediately available. Everest has been scaled by more than 6,000 climbers since it was first conquered by Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay in 1953. At least 311 people have died on its slopes. Nepal has issued a record 408 permits to climb Everest in the April-May climbing season after last year's closure due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Foreigners climbed Mount Everest for the first time since Nepal's government reopened the mountain after it was shut last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, despite recent coronavirus cases at its base camp. Thirty-eight climbers including ten Bahraini and two British mountaineers climbed the world's highest mountain on Tuesday, according to hiking companies. It comes as a few climbers were evacuated from the Everest base camp in April after they fell sick with Covid-19 symptoms as Nepal battles a devastating second wave of coronaviurs infections. "Twelve foreign climbers scaled Sagarmatha today," Tourism Department official Mira Acharya told Reuters from the base camp, referring to the Nepali name of the peak. Nepal closed the mountain in March 2020 due to the pandemic, but reopened for this year's climbing season starting in April, issuing a record of 408 permits granting access to the 8,848.86-metre peak. Mingma Sherpa at the Seven Summit Treks company said Bahraini prince Mohamed Hamad Mohamed al-Khalifa was among the climbers on Tuesday. Nepal is fighting a recent surge in infections and has reported a total 403,794 coronavirus cases and 3,859 deaths. China will set up "a line of separation" at the summit of Mount Everest to prevent the mingling of climbers from Covid-hit Nepal and those ascending from the Tibetan side as a precautionary measure, Chinese state media reported on Sunday. "The Covid-19 virus appears to be spreading quickly throughout EBC (Everest base camp) and the Khumbu, with frequent evacuations to Kathmandu, where individuals are testing positive for the virus," American climbing blogger Alan Arnette wrote in a post last month. Nepal, which earns millions of dollars from climbers every year, says it has not been notified of the outbreak at the base camp. Officials say climbers are required to show a negative test for the coronavirus before heading to the mountain.
Nepal’s Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli yesterday lost a confidence vote, triggering fresh political uncertainty just as the Himalayan nation reels from the pandemic. Oli, 69, decided to seek a vote of confidence following months of feuding within his ruling communist party and coalition partners. “If you want a stable parliament you should vote for the continuity of this government,” he said in his address to the legislature before the vote. But the former political prisoner was able to secure only 93 votes in the parliament instead of the 136 needed. More than 120 parliamentarians voted against and nearly two dozen leaders from Oli’s own party skipped the process. According to procedure, the president will now call for parties to propose a new candidate, backed by a majority. Nepal has been roiled by months of turmoil after Oli dissolved parliament in December, accusing members of his Nepal Communist Party (NCP) of being unco-operative. The NCP was formed in 2018 by a merger between Oli’s communist party CPN-UML and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) of former rebel leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal. Two months later, the Supreme Court reinstated parliament. Another ruling broke the merger and split the ruling party into two. In recent months, Oli has faced fierce criticism over his handling of the pandemic as the second wave sweeps over the country, with half of people tested now returning positive. However it was more political infighting rather than his handling of the pandemic that caused him to lose the vote of confidence. Nepal yesterday reported 9,127 cases, the highest increase yet.
Nepal is so short of oxygen canisters that it has asked climbers on Mount Everest to bring back their empties instead of abandoning them on mountain slopes, an official said on Monday, as it struggles with a second wave of the coronavirus. The country issued climbing permits to more than 700 climbers for 16 Himalayan peaks - 408 to Mount Everest - for the April-May climbing season in a bid to get the mountaineering industry and tourism back up and running. The Nepal Mountaineering Association has asked the climbers to help Nepal deal with a surge in Covid-10 cases that has brought the country's fragile healthcare system to breaking point, as it has in neighbouring India where deaths held close to record highs on Monday. Kul Bahadur Gurung, a senior official with the NMA, said climbers and their Sherpa guides were estimated to have carried at least 3,500 oxygen bottles this season. These bottles often get buried in avalanches or are abandoned on the mountain slopes at the end of the expedition. "We appeal to climbers and sherpas to bring back their empty bottles wherever possible as they can be refilled and used for the treatment of the coronavirus patients who are in dire needs," Gurung told Reuters. On Sunday, Nepal reported a daily increase of 8,777 infections, 30 times the number recorded on April 9. The total caseload stands at 394,667 and 3,720 deaths, according to government data. Many private and community hospitals in Kathmandu have said they are unable to take any more patients due to lack of oxygen. There was a shortage of both the gas and canisters. "We need about 25,000 oxygen cylinders immediately to save people from dying. This is our urgent need," Samir Kumar Adhikari, a health ministry official said. "We also need oxygen plants, compressors and ICU beds urgently," Adhikari said. Nepal has asked China to send 20,000 cylinders, some of which will be airlifted to meet urgent needs, another official said. China has pledged to provide oxygen cylinders, ventilators and other medical supplies, Health and Population Minister Hridayesh Tripathi said. Nepal has only 1,600 intensive care beds and fewer than 600 ventilators for its population of 30 million with just 0.7 doctors per 100,000 people, according to ActionAid Nepal. Prakash Thapa, a doctor at the Bheri hospital in Nepalgunj, in southwest Nepal bordering India, said patients were sleeping on the floor and corridors. "We are somehow managing so far but it will be difficult to take any more patients,” he said.
A Nepali sherpa scaled Mount Everest for a record 25th time yesterday, an official said, beating his own record after he ascended as part of a group that was the first to reach the summit in more than a year. The world’s highest mountain had been closed to climbers in March 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The last successful summit attempt, until yesterday’s climb after it reopened, was in 2019. Kami Rita Sherpa, 51, scaled the 8,848.86-metre mountain via the traditional southeast ridge route with 11 other Sherpa climbers, tourism official Mira Acharya said. “This is the season’s first success,” she told Reuters from the base camp. The route was pioneered by New Zealander Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay in 1953 and remains the most popular. Kami, who goes by his first name, beat his own record of 24 ascents set in 2019, when he said he would retire after making his 25th climb. He was not immediately available for comment. He is four ascents ahead of at least two other Sherpa climbers, who have each made 21 summits, according to Ang Tshering Sherpa, former head of the Nepal Mountaineering Association. Kami was part of a rope fixing team to the summit, his Seven Summit trekking agency said. Nepal has issued a record 408 permits to climb Everest in the peak season, which running from April to May. The Himalayan nation, which is heavily reliant on climbers for foreign exchange, faced criticism after 2019 was marred by overcrowding and climber deaths on the mountain. Climbers are required to show a negative test for the coronavirus before heading to the mountain, according to Nepali rules aimed at preventing infections among climbing groups. Nepal reported a record daily rise of 9,023 coronavirus cases yesterday taking the total to 377,603 infections, with 3,579 deaths.
Health workers and authorities in Nepal are struggling to contain a massive surge of Covid-19 cases as infections spill over from neighbouring India's deadly second wave. In last three weeks, Nepal's daily case trajectory has shot up with two out of five people tested now returning positive. On Thursday, Nepal reported 8,970 cases, the highest single day increase. More than 3,500 people have died since the pandemic began, 400 of them in the last two weeks alone, according to official figures. "Health facilities have been flooded with symptomatic cases... The situation could become worse in the coming days," Hemanta Chandra Ojha at Nepal's Epidemiology and Disease Control Division told AFP. "We can manage the oxygen supplies but ventilators and ICU facilities required for the treatment of severe cases are in short supply." The country's health system has been overwhelmed by the sudden spike, with hospitals filling fast. Nepal shares a 1,850-kilometre open border with India, and communities commonly travel across it for work and to visit family, and many are now returning home. In Bheri Hospital in Nepalgunj, a city bordering India's Utter Pradesh state, health workers are working tirelessly as the patient flow continues to grow. "The hospital is overloaded, we are treating patients at each and every corner of the building," said Badri Chapagain, a doctor at the hospital. Relatives of patients are scrambling for medicine and intensive care beds. Tanka Nath Pandey spent two days looking for an ICU bed for his ailing brother-in-law in Kathmandu. "I cannot say how difficult it was. We have found a bed now but we are searching for Remdesivir vials. We are exhausted," Pandey said. Surya Raj Pandey, who co-founded Covid Connect Nepal, a volunteer group to help patients, said that requests for ICU beds and oxygen cylinders are growing each day and it is becoming harder to find matches. Nepal shut down almost all flights this week and has imposed lockdowns or partial lockdowns in 80 percent of its districts to curb infections. The country's tourism industry suffered a devastating blow in 2020, and this year climbers at its big money-spinner Mount Everest have tested positive, raising fears the virus may ruin a a hoped-for bumper season on the world's highest mountain. - Appeals for aid -Earlier this week Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, who has been criticised for his handling of the pandemic, appealed to the international community to ensure supply of vaccinations and medical supplies to help Nepal fight the virus. Nepal's vaccination campaign, which began in January, has faced uncertainty after only half of the ordered supplies from India were delivered. In a country of 30 million, only 2.4 million shots from India and China have been administered, and only a small fraction have received both doses. In early April, Nepal was reporting fewer than 200 cases a day. Even as cases rose in neighbouring India, mass gatherings including religious festivals, political meetings and weddings continued in the country. Many Nepalis were also at India's Kumbh Mela attended by millions of Hindu devotees, including the former king Gyanendra Bir Bikram Shah and his queen, who have been hospitalised after testing positive. Last week, Nepal banned Indians from using Kathmandu as a transit after Indian nationals increasingly flew out of Kathmandu following flight restrictions from India.
More than 30 sick climbers have been evacuated from the foot of Mount Everest, raising fears that coronavirus may scupper a hoped-for bumper season on the world's highest mountain. Nepal's tourism industry suffered a devastating blow last year when the pandemic prompted a complete shutdown of its summits, costing millions in lost revenue. This year authorities have eased quarantine rules in an effort to lure back foreign adventurers and have issued climbing permits to more than 400 people, a new record. An Everest permit alone costs $11,000 and climbers pay upward of $40,000 for an expedition. But the warmer weather that ushers in safer conditions for scaling Nepal's dangerous, snow-capped peaks has coincided with a deadly second wave of Covid-19 infections, with active cases in the country rising six-fold in the last two weeks. Norwegian climber Erlend Ness spent two nights sleeping in his tent at base camp last month, unsure of what was making him ill. ‘I was evacuated to Kathmandu and was tested. My result was positive for Covid,’ he told AFP, becoming the first climber with an Everest permit to confirm his infection. ‘I think I'm not the only one... Every team at the base camp knows the risk of Covid is there and they have to be careful, they should be careful,’ he said. Fellow climber Gina Marie Han-Lee decided to abandon her expedition last week over fears the disease was spreading around base camp. ‘I have taken a helicopter out of EBC (Everest base camp) back to Kathmandu after 1 day. The Covid situation at EBC is a total shitstorm. I had no clue what I was flying into,’ the US citizen wrote on her Facebook page on April 29. ‘It was a heartbreaking decision but I'm putting my health first. Covid at a high altitude does not sound like something I want to play with.’ - 'We don't have tests here' -Officials at a health clinic catering to the climbers say more than 30 people have been flown off the camp in recent weeks. At least two have tested positive after returning to the capital Kathmandu. But the government has yet to confirm a single Covid case on Everest. ‘Some evacuated may have tested positive in Kathmandu. They did not test at the base camp, so we cannot be sure where they got infected,’ said Nepal's tourism department chief Rudra Singh Tamang. Health professionals at the camp say they do not have the capacity to test for the disease. ‘We have permission to only work as a clinic so we don't have tests here. We have made requests but nothing has happened yet,’ a doctor there said. More than a thousand people are typically camped at the bustling tent city at the foot of Everest, including foreign climbers and the teams of Nepali guides that escort them to the peak. But the usual reverie and loud communal parties are absent this year after expedition groups were asked to keep to themselves and avoid socialising with others. Customary religious ceremonies held before an ascent to pray for a safe expedition have also been turned into quiet and private affairs. ‘We are taking all precautions possible to make sure that there are no infections,’ said Tashi Sherpa of Seven Summit Treks, the largest climbing agency at Everest. ‘We are not visiting other tents, and even groups within the camps are not mixing.’ - 'We are very scared' -More than 400 people in Nepal have died over the last two weeks after contracting Covid. The country's health system has been overwhelmed by the sudden spike, with hospitals filling fast and relatives of patients scrambling for medicine and intensive care beds. Climbers on peaks elsewhere in the country have also run into problems. An expedition on Dhaulagiri, the seventh highest mountain in the world, is in limbo after at least three members tested positive for Covid this week. Nine are being evacuated and others are being tested, the head of their expedition said. Breathing is already difficult at high altitudes so any coronavirus outbreak among climbing groups could pose severe health risks. Evacuating ill climbers from the remote peaks poses a major logistical challenge. ‘We are very scared, there are many rumours and we don't know what is really going on,’ said Harshvardhan Joshi, an Indian climber hoping to summit Everest. ‘What if someone shows symptoms after reaching a higher camp?’
Nepal urgently needs at least 1.6mn AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine doses to administer second shots as the country is recording a surge in new coronavirus cases. “People who have already got the first dose will be in difficulty if they don’t receive their second dose within the stipulated time,” said Samir Adhikari, a senior official of the ministry of health and population in capital Kathmandu. On Monday, Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli urged foreign donors to supply vaccines and critical care medicines to prevent a collapse of the small country’s creaky health infrastructure. Nepal, wedged between China and India, has already vaccinated more than 2mn people with the AstraZeneca vaccine provided by India and China’s Sinopharm. But authorities were forced to suspend the vaccination programme last month after the country failed to secure fresh dispatches of vaccine from India and China. “I would like to request our neighbours, friendly countries and international organisations to help us with vaccines and critical care medicines...to support ongoing efforts to combat the pandemic,” Oli said in a televised address. Oli said officials were in contact China and Russia and other manufacturers to urgently secure vaccines. Oli, who has been criticised for doing little to contain the pandemic, said vaccines and critical care medicines were “global goods” and that every one should have access. On Monday, Nepal’s Covid-19 cases increased by 7,388 and deaths by 37, the highest spike in 24 hours since the pandemic started. Nepal has recorded a total of 343,418 cases and 3,362 deaths, according to official data. Weeping relatives offered last respects to their loved ones as crematory workers lifted bodies for open air cremation on the bank of Bagmati river in Kathmandu.
Nepal yesterday inaugurated a replica of a historic tower that collapsed in a devastating 2015 earthquake, a day before the disaster’s sixth anniversary. The 19th-century, nine-storey Dharahara tower, a major tourist attraction, was among buildings which crumbled in the 7.8-magnitude quake that killed nearly 9,000 people. Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli inaugurated the new 23-storey, 84-metre (276-foot) white tower, built next to the rubble of the original, by raining flowers from the top-floor balcony. “Dharahara is linked to our feelings, pride, past and history,” the prime minister said. Two underground floors have also been built, to hold a museum about the quake. The tower had already been rebuilt once, after a 1934 earthquake. More than 50 people were killed when the original 50-metre tower – known for its views across the capital – fell in 2015. The new tower is part of a huge national reconstruction programme.
Nepal gave conditional approval on Tuesday for the emergency use of the Russian Sputnik V Covid-19 vaccine, an official of the drug regulator said, as the country recorded the highest daily increase of infections in four months. Nepal began is vaccination campaign in January with AstraZeneca vaccines provided by India but suspended it last month following lack of supply. "Conditional permission has been granted for emergency use authorization of Russia’s Sputnik V in Nepal,” Santosh K.C, a senior official in the Department of Drug Administration, told Reuters.
Nepal has ordered schools to close for four days after air pollution climbed to hazardous levels, forcing millions of students to stay home across the country. Nepal, with a population of 30 million people, is located in the Himalayas between China and India, two of the world's biggest polluters. Air pollution is a chronic problem in the rapidly growing capital city of Kathmandu and an additional headache for the government that is struggling to contain the coronavirus pandemic. Over the weekend, pollution levels hit their highest in the capital since the government began keeping records in 2016, government official Shankar Paudel told Reuters. Education ministry spokesman Deepak Sharma said about eight million students have been affected by the closures. The 24-hour average level of PM2.5, fine particulate matter that can reach deep into the lungs, was 214 micrograms per cubic metre in the upscale area of Bhaisepati in Kathmandu on Sunday, Department of Environment data showed. That compares with the government's standard level of 40 micrograms per cubic metre. Air quality in the capital has deteriorated recently but average pollution readings were not available. Dust from construction works, exhaust from old, poorly maintained vehicles and smoke from coal-burning brick kilns blend in a murky haze that hangs over the ancient city of four million people, raising the risk of cancer, stroke, asthma and high blood pressure, experts say. "This also adds to the risk of Covid-19," said Sher Bahadur Pun, a doctor at a tropical and infectious disease hospital in the capital. Arjun Khadka, 65, who owns a grocery store in Kathmandu, said he experienced itching and burning sensations in the eyes and nose which could be due to pollution. "I don't remember this level of pollution in Kathmandu in the past," Khadka told Reuters. People must stay safe indoors and not come out except for emergencies, the health ministry said. Officials at Nepal's only international airport in Kathmandu said poor visibility, which was down to 1,000 metres on Monday, widely disrupted flights.
Nepal on Friday gave emergency authorisation to India's Covid-19 vaccine Covaxin, becoming only the third country to approve the shot, developed by Bharat Biotech and a state research institute. Covaxin was shown to be 81% effective in an interim analysis of late-stage trial data on some 26,000 people in India. The vaccine was approved for emergency use in India in January and Zimbabwe cleared it early this month. "Conditional permission has been granted for emergency use authorisation," Nepal's Department of Drug Administration said in a statement. Wedged between India and China, the Himalayan country has already received more than 2.3 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine from India, including 1 million doses as a gift. China has also promised 800,000 doses of its own vaccine but the time for the delivery of the Chinese shots is unknown. The latest approval comes as authorities in Nepal said they were suspending their vaccination campaign because of a lack of supply. Jageshwar Gautam, a spokesman for the Ministry of Health and Population, said more than 1.6 million people had received their first shots under the inoculation drive begun in January. "We do not have enough vaccine shots to begin our next phase of vaccination of people above 55 years of age," Gautam told Reuters. "The campaign will be suspended until we get more supply." Nepal has reported 275,750 cases and 3,016 deaths so far, according to government data. Bharat Biotech says it has received interest in Covaxin from 40 countries. It has sought or is in the process of seeking emergency approvals in Brazil, the Philippines and Thailand.
Hundreds of climbers are set to return to Mount Everest for the first time next month under strict conditions, government officials and mountaineers said, as the world's tallest peak reopens after a year closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. More than 300 foreign climbers were likely to attempt to scale the 8,849-metre (29,031-feet) mountain in the peak climbing season beginning in April, tourism department official Mira Acharya said, compared with a record 381 climbers who attempted the famed summit in the same period in 2019. ‘This is ... despite the one-week quarantine requirement and certificate showing the climber had tested negative for the virus,’ said Acharya. Eight of the world's 14 highest mountains including Everest are wholly or partly in Nepal, and hundreds of foreign climbers contribute millions of dollars in income annually to the cash-strapped nation. Lukas Furtenbach of California-based guiding company Furtenbach Adventures is leading 22 climbers in five teams, including two expeditions to Everest. Some of his clients have postponed plans to next year because of travel restrictions in countries like Britain, he said. ‘We have a very strict Covid-19 protocol with a tight testing schedule, an expedition doctor, a closed bubble for our team at base camp, hygiene protocols,’ Furtenbach said. Nepal closed its mountains in March last year as part of tight measures to control the coronavirus which has infected 274,973 people and caused 3,012 deaths nationally so far. The country began its vaccination campaign with AstraZeneca shots gifted by India in January. Infections are decreasing with 104 new cases reported on Wednesday, a fraction of the 5,743 cases at its peak in October. Expedition organisers say the Chinese side of Everest, which was shut to foreign climbers last year, will stay closed this season as well, likely meaning more climbers on the Nepal side. Garrett Madison of US-based Madison Mountaineering said he was heading a ‘big team’ of climbers to Everest in the April-May climbing season. ‘We are not afraid of COVID, but will take precautions,’ Madison told Reuters. Not all mountaineering companies are returning. It is ‘not a responsible time’ to run expeditions given Nepal's weak healthcare system, said Adrian Ballinger of Alpenglow Expeditions. ‘The last thing we want to do is put our climbers in harm's way - or create a rescue situation on the mountain if someone were to get sick that would put others in danger,’ he said.
At least six people, including two former ministers, were injured when police lobbed tear gas shells and resorted to baton charges to break up a protest rally during a nationwide general strike in Nepal that was called by a faction of the ruling party yesterday. The strike was meant to help cement opposition against Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli for dissolving parliament and seeking fresh polls amid a pandemic-induced economic crisis. “Protesters tried to vandalise cars and a police van, forcing police to resort to mild force in which six people including two police personnel were injured,” Bandhu Prasad Bastola, Dhanusa district administrator, told Reuters. Two former ministers, Ram Chadra Jha and Matrika Yadav, who are also senior leaders of the rival faction of the ruling party, were among the injured in the town of Janakpur in Dhanusa district. It was not immediately known how serious their injuries were. “They (former ministers) are being brought to Kathmandu by a helicopter for treatment,” said senior faction leader Pampha Bhusal, who, along with her colleagues, had declared the strike. Police said at least 157 people were detained across the country to curb the violence. The call to shut down businesses, shops and educational institutions was part of a protest campaign launched across the Himalayan nation, after Oli dissolved parliament on December 20, citing a lack of co-operation from other leaders of his Nepal Communist Party (NCP). “The prime minister dissolved the parliament blocking our platform to protest against his unilateral decisions,” Bishnu Rijal, a leader of the Communist Party, said. “We are compelled to (take) to the street to protest against his unconstitutional move.” The Supreme Court judges hearing more than a dozen petitions challenging the legality of parliament’s dissolution are expected to give a verdict this month. If they rule in Oli’s favour, elections have been scheduled in two phases, on April 30 and May 10. The call for a strike came after Oli earlier this week appointed senior officials to constitutional bodies, including commissions on human rights and investigations into abuse of authority. Opponents in the NCP accused Oli of bypassing a requirement for appointees to be approved by parliament. In late December, the Chinese Communist Party sent senior officials to Kathmandu to see if they could mend ties between the factions in a party regarded as friendly to Beijing.
A team of Nepali climbers that made the first winter summit of K2, the world’s second tallest peak, arrived back in the country to a heroes' welcome on Tuesday from crowds of well-wishers. The 10 men, who climbed the 8,611 metre (28,251 foot) K2 peak on Jan. 16, attributed their success to team spirit and a resolve to raise their country’s pride. The mountain, that straddles the Pakistan-China border, was first climbed in 1954 but had never been summitted in the winter. ‘We succeeded in our effort because we worked as a team,’ Nirmal Purja, the climbing leader, said at a public function to welcome them back. ‘If we unite we conquer … if we are divided we fall,’ he added. He said the K2 ascent was a huge achievement for all climbers to celebrate. ‘It is bigger than winning the World Cup.’ Purja, 37, also holds the record of climbing the world's 14 highest mountains in the shortest time of six months and one week. Fans and families placed colourful Buddhist prayer scarves on the climbers' shoulders on their arrival at Nepal’s only international airport in Kathmandu. ‘With the success, we made our country proud even by risking our own lives,’ Purja told reporters at the airport, before they were driven around the temple-studded city in an open truck. All except one of the group are Sherpas, an ethnic group known for their climbing skills more commonly known as support workers for foreign expeditions.